The Iron Umbrella, Nelson Mandela & Illegal Camping
The sun is setting and we are sitting next to a river watching a group of youngsters being coached boxing. It’s special to see how the simple, yet involved, the villagers life is and the structures of discipline and respect that exist. If there is one thing we can learn here, that is the entrenched respect and caring for one another. If there is a seat open in a vehicle they will stop and offer you a lift. We have decided to keep to the East coast for a while longer to try and avoid the inland heat, bit we will have to cut in a day or 2.
The other plan is we are now getting up at 4:30 and starting to run in the dark to also try and get distance in before the oven switches on. There is however the one danger that we have become more and more aware of, the crazy drivers swerving everywhere to avoid pot holes and trucks and old cabs flying at you from nowhere. We have also seen that there seems to be an iron umbrella over the island blocking all data and signal in and out of the island.
There is a massive tropical storm raging, we initially were going to sleep next to the river. I am so pleased that we decided to sleep up a little hill. The rain is coming down so hard that there is no way that I can sleep with the noise. There is even a fine spray of water inside my tent as it squirts through the seams. This has never happened before even in the mega storms in Madagascar.
The only way I am going to sleep is to make some toilet paper and sun cream earplugs. I have tried to shout to Andy and Pete to see how they are, but it’s just too crazy out there they can’t hear a thing. I will find out once it starts to clear. Don’t know when that will be. All ended well and we rolled on into the town down the valley, we experienced our first cock fights in Barra. The cocks had their spurs wrapped so they could not kill each other. I have never seen birds shaking from adrenaline before they are put at each other. It’s a fairly well supported sport down here and large amounts are bet on it. The fighting cocks have all their feathers plucked except on their wings tail and head. Interesting to see but not for me. One thing I can tell you is these birds have serious attitudes.
Things started to go a lot better, slowly getting into a rhythm. We managed to push 40km and we will slowly build on this. Food is still a major problem as the area that we are running through now is very poor subsistence farms, you can buy nothing. There is only the state ration shop where we can’t go to so it’s bananas and really sour grapefruit. Tomorrow we cut inland from Moa then head up the centre of the island, that’s going to be seriously hot. But we have hit a massive swamp and mangrove area ahead and the only way is to cut inland, it’s going to be tough. The heat was now unbearable again. It just seems to burn into you and sap every bit of energy.
The worst is 11am to 3pm then you can hardly move, but we keep plodding on. We have run through a massive open mining area, just on the outskirts of Moa, with old factories pumping out smoke and the landscape trashed for kilometres in every direction with the smell of ammonia and other chemicals hanging in the air. After about 15km of breathing suffocating polluted air, we were very pleased to be out of the industrial slum land. Further up the road we met a Cuban long distance runner travelling with his wife on a bike. He went ahead, dropped off his wife and waited for us at the next town. He has been running races in his only pair of shoes for the last 8 years. Believe it or not, and winning races.
An Adidas fan through and through. I gave him a pair of my shoes, shorts, cap and shirt. He was absolutely blown away. He went home and got one of his marathon winning medals and insisted I take it . What a cool guy. It was time to eat starved after 5 hours on the road, following him we, went down some little alleyways to a home where he said they make really good food. We had our best meal of the journey to date, spicy chicken that I am still talking about.
As all of you at home are aware of the News that the father of our new nation has passed on. As a team here in Cuba, today we dedicate every step to his journey may each drop of sweat that we shed be for a tear of joy to celebrate freedom, peace, unity and respect the incredible life of Nelson Mandela. Tata we will miss you. All day we were receiving calls from the Cubans that we had befriended along the way, calling us and sharing their condolences.
We ate sitting on the roof of this building thinking what is going to unfold tomorrow. Pete our crew/media guy has just commented that this is definitely not the summer holiday adventure that he had in mind when he signed up for this. I told him that I had mentioned sometimes there might be 3 nights without sleep. we are heading into that zone. A few days ago I was commenting on how harmonious and interdependent these communities seemed to be. How far from the reality could I be. 2 nights ago the friendly neighbour reported the family we were staying with to the military. They were in serious trouble the next day. Yesterday we were given a place to camp with a welcoming smile only to be sold out a few hours later.
This society has an underbelly that it’s going to take a lot of searching to try and understand, it is impossible to work out what is permitted and what is not as whatever we do we are in trouble. We now find ourselves in massive trouble, our passports have been confiscated, we were under house arrest last night and now our way to Immigration HQ in Holgin 80km away with the officer who pulled us in last night on his bike behind us. We are not sure what is exactly going on at the moment. One thing that it is great to see is all the flags that we pass are flying at half mast in honour of Nelson Mandela.
What a hectic day after about 4 hours at the immigration being interrogated we now have a very clear understanding of where we’ll are allowed to go sleep etc. Camping is forbidden. So if we are out of line that’s it 3 strikes and you are out. The costs here are basically Euro rate so we are going to have to eat whatever we can scrounge and increase the daily distance as this means that we have to pay to sleep every night. This is going to be one monster trip. The three of us are sitting here and reflecting on the past few days, its been a close call. The last farewell message from the military interrogator “Major Tom” as we left we were warned, you get caught again it’s prison then deportation.
How quickly ones world can come tumbling down without even realising the magnitude of the situation that you are in. Last night we spent the evening in the home of such a special family. They cooked us a local chicken that rocked with all the trimmings. What a great end to quite a hectic day. Hospitality and friendship that was exceptional. We hit the road at just after 5 this morning with a new spring in our step. The next Andy and I knew we were 30 km down the road, life is good, back to normal. Pete met us later with a breakfast. Fresh pineapple juice, boiled eggs, cheese sandwiches and coffee sent by the family we were staying with. Here we go. Looks like we are finally in the groove and getting to grips with Cuba…
How wrong we were. What now? 10km later we are pulled over by a plain clothed irate dude with a weird attitude. He is demanding our passports, where we stayed last night and the rest. We had noting. Pete has everything in the car. I just don’t know if this is ever going to end. Andy is on the phone to Pete to come back and the gent is in some home making phone calls. The worst is we can’t understand a thing. Andy speaks a bit of Italian, me a bit French and our friend only Spanish, This was going to be an interesting afternoon. What a paradox we find ourselves in. The beauty of the island. Villages that are caught in a time capsule, cars driving out of a never-ending movie set and the unforgettable hospitality and friendship.
Through all of this then comes an iron fist and smashes everything in tiny little pieces, leaving you bewildered wondering what the hell has just happened and why. There is no answer, you can just shake your head and walk on. Finally after a very tense hour, Military back on the scene again, things are finally sorted out. It’s been a good day lets say with no more unexpected distractions. Andy and I put our heads down, got into our running rhythm and posted a respectable 58km for the day. There was a bit of, cloud cover so we escaped the worst of the sun and could get on with the day at the office. The old cars are such a special feature of the landscape in Cuba, except when they are heading down the road towards you.
One sees the driver frantically spinning the sneering wheel to try and overt taking you out. There is so much play in the steering, that at the very last minute the car jerks away in the opposite direction and then as it whizzes past in a puff of black smoke, all you see is the driver again spinning the steering to avoid the on coming tragic and so it bounces swerving and backfiring down the freeway playing chicken with the pot holes.